Are there some things you just shouldn’t say at a funeral? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I’ve only done one funeral and that was my grandmother’s. I’ve attended a number of them and sadly, one of the worst parts is hearing the awful messages that preachers give because they just don’t have good theology to them. There are many preachers who haven’t studied the issues involved and say some messages they shouldn’t. Some of these aren’t really harmful to the audience. Others really can be. I’d like to look at a number of them and I’m going to save the worst one that I’ve ever heard for last.
At one funeral, I remember hearing the preacher talk about the deceased and saying “Right now, she is experiencing the power of the resurrection!”
You see, this might be a shock, but when you go to the funeral service, barring some catastrophe, usually the person’s body is right there. You get to see the body. Resurrection means something. It means that the person is again in their body after life after death and is walking around. For our purposes in Christianity, it means they are back in a body that will never die and they will live forever. Resurrection does not mean going to Heaven when you die. Of course, if you want to say when someone dies, they go to be in the presence of Jesus, I have no problem, but let us not say that they are experiencing the resurrection. They are not. The resurrection of Jesus is not about Him leaving a body in a tomb and being taken in spirit to be with the Father. It is about the body that went down coming back up in a new and glorified state. For Christians, that won’t happen until the end.
“God needed another angel.”
Frankly, this one is cruel. Really. It is. You want to go to a little child who has just lost their mother and say “We know you’re hurting, but God needed another angel in Heaven.” Not only is it the problem that angels are not dead humans, but what kind of God are you presenting? A God who has to kill the mothers of children so He can have angels for His purposes? Many children believe it or not do not have a sophisticated theology. You are already presenting them with a God who will take the mother that they long for and cherish just because He needs another angel in Heaven. If you have ever said this to someone, shame on you for saying it.
“He’s walking on streets of gold.”
This one I didn’t hear at a funeral per se, but it was said by a preacher in a sermon where he talked about a friend who died and how right now, he’s walking on streets of gold. It was one of those points where my wife Allie had to reach over and gently touch my leg as if to say “Please calm down.” She knows I get really agitated when I hear bad theology like this. Why is this bad? Because this is more of a gnostic view than anything else. We have this view that the body is a sort of prison to be escaped and then we die and we’re walking in Heaven. No. We’re not. We have no body to walk in and if you want to see those streets of gold, they’re talked about in the last two chapters of Revelation when Heaven is described. Where is Heaven? Take a look. It’s not the case of “I’ll Fly Away” from this world and leave it behind because “This World Is Not My Home. I’m Just Passing Through.” Heaven is coming down to Earth. The Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of God. God takes over finally. We have the marriage of Heaven and Earth.
Christians must be people who view the body as important. We do not dare say there is a sort of spiritual body that is walking on the streets of gold. We have to emphasize that we are incomplete without our physical bodies.
“Paul’s hope was we would see our loved ones again in Heaven.”
I remember being at a sermon and the pastor was really flubbing it in my thinking. Sadly, he spent more time talking about himself than he did about the deceased, but then he said we have the same hope that Paul described in 1 Thess. 4. Okay. I was starting to get hopeful here. I know what 1 Thess. 4 is about. It’s about the resurrection. So will the pastor get it right? Will he say we have the hope of the resurrection?
Nope. Instead, it was that we would see our loved ones in Heaven.
Just going to Heaven is incomplete. If anything, it means that death does have a victory. Death has a victory because our bodies are still subject to it. For Paul, the resurrection means everything. It means that death has been truly conquered and cannot hold us down just like it could not hold Jesus down. Either death has the last word over our bodies, or God has the last word over death. We will see our loved ones again one day, yes, and that is something we are meant to comfort one another with, but that reunion takes place after the resurrection. That was the great hope.
Unfortunately, even just yesterday I saw an internet atheist trying to argue that Paul’s great change he made to Christianity was he promised people Heaven. Paul’s message was the resurrection, and he was right in line with what the rest of the early church was saying. Even in our evangelism, we act like the goal is to get people to go to Heaven. The goal is to get people to become righteous in Christ and be disciples.
“Their Last Act Was An Act Of Love.”
I must place this one in the proper context. My parents told me about hearing this one at a funeral that they attended where it was said that the last act of the deceased was an act of love. What was it? A police officer taking a bullet for a fellow officer? A soldier throwing himself onto a grenade so his buddies would be safe? A firefighter rushing into a building to save a child? Nope.
The deceased had committed suicide.
Suicide is many things, but it is not loving and it should never be seen as loving. Instead, there were children and nieces and nephews and others there who were told that day that a person committing suicide was an act of love. I understand the preacher got a lot of flack for his statement. He should have. Funerals are meant to comfort those who are left behind and to honor the deceased. This kind of statement does neither.
Let’s remember when we have our services that we are Christians. We believe in a bodily resurrection. We believe that God is conquering evil. We believe that the world will bow the knee to Christ at one point in time. None of this should be downplayed. That we do not realize this and celebrate this enough is a fault of our churches not teaching good theology and not discipling.